NEWS | Aug. 20, 2015

Air Force RPA training pipeline set to expand

Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

The Air Force plans to boost the production of undergraduate remotely piloted aircraft pilots in its ranks by 200 RPA pilots per year within the next two years. Lt. Col. John Stallworth, 558th Flying Training Squadron commander at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, said the Air Force plan will increase the number of RPA pilots that will be trained at JBSA-Randolph from 182 last year to 384 in 2017.

The 558th FTS is the sole source of undergraduate RPA training in the Air Force. The training program is six months for RPA pilots and six weeks for sensor operators, who control the cameras on the remotely piloted aircraft.

RPA crews consist of one pilot and one sensor operator.

“The RPA community is experiencing a manpower challenge and they need more people to help overcome that,” Stallworth said. “We are the first program in the training pipeline that produces RPA pilots and we will grow.”

Student pilots who graduate from the 558th FTS move on to training in one of the three remotely piloted aircraft used by the Air Force – the MQ-1 Predator, the MQ-9 Reaper and the RQ-4 Global Hawk. RQ-4 training is at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., while MQ-1 and MQ-9 training is conducted at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.

The number of sensor operators that will be trained will also increase, according to Air Education and Training Command officials. The Air Force will determine the number of additional sensor operators who will undergo undergraduate RPA training at a later date. In 2014, the 558th FTS trained 203 sensor operators.

To make room for the additional RPA students, AETC officials said $4.6 million in simulator upgrades and $600,000 in renovations will be made to the 558th FTS building. Six new, more robust instrument simulators will be added, while upgrades will be made to 10 existing simulators to improved specifications. The RPA student pilots train with these linked, T-6A-like simulators to learn instrument flying procedures in a dynamic airspace environment.

Renovations include additional simulator rooms and additional classroom and office space, said AETC officials. The renovations are scheduled to start in September 2015 and be completed by October 2016.

An AETC undergraduate RPA training official said the renovations will not interfere with training at the 558th FTS.

To train the additional RPA pilots, Stallworth said the 558th FTS will gain 42 new instructors, going from 70 to 112 within the next 14 to 15 months. Increasing the number of instructors will allow the squadron to train students in six flight rooms.

An AETC RPA training branch official said the first wave of additional RPA student pilots will enter training at JBSA-Randolph in January and graduate in May. Beginning in October 2016, the AETC official said the RPA pilot training pipeline will be ready for the increased384 student capacity.

Other Air Force plans for the RPA program include pay bonuses for RPA pilots, investing $100 million for more ground control stations, simulators and contract instructors and increasing the use of the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and contractors for the RPA mission.